Posted Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at 11:07 AM
A month ago, before the deep South primaries in Georgia and Tennessee, I guessed that Mitt Romney would lose basically everything in the region. No modern Republican nominee had gotten there without a big Southern win. Mitt Romney would make history.
Romney went on to lose five primaries in the deep South. Rick Santorum is vowing to stay in the race, his eyes on the May races in Arkansas and Texas. That makes perfect sense. But it's really only the South that's continuing to hurt Romney in the delegate hunt. I'll explain.
Caucuses: There have been 12 of them, in the Midwest, the West, the non-contiguous states, and... well, in Maine. Romney has won seven of these contests. Santorum's won five. Romney's wins came in states where the Mormon population was large (Nevada, Idaho) or where there weren't enough evangelicals to power out an upset. Santorum's won where evangelicals live. We're talking about a pretty small pool of votes, too. Romney has won 145,978 of them; Santorum has won 130,056. For comparison, more people voted for the top four finishers in Oklahoma's primary. And the caucus stage of the primary is basically over; these states are now assigning delegates in conventions.
Primaries: We've endured 16 of them, 17 if you count Missouri's non-binding contest. I'll stick with 16. Eight of these primaries were in the West, Midwest, the Northeast, and Puerto Rico. Romney won all of them. The rest of the primaries were below the Mason-Dixon line. Romney won only two of those -- Virginia, where only he and Ron Paul were on the ballot, and Florida, where transplants and a large Hispanic Republican population make it unlike other Southern states.
The rest of the primaries split: Two for Gingrich, five for Santorum. The scale of Romney's weakness here is pretty epic. He won only four counties in Alabama, only three counties in Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina, only two in Oklahoma, and only one in Louisiana. The fluke was Mississippi, a three-way split where Romney managed to win 23 counties.
Caveat: Rick Santorum may stitch together the evangelical/independent coalition in Wisconsin today. That would change the storyline. If the polls are right, though, Santorum's about to lose three more non-Southern primaries, try to salvage Pennsylvania in the five-state April 22 primary, and then make himself relevant in states like Indiana (May 8) and Oregon (May 15). Can he? The evidence so far suggests that he can't win a primary state unless there's already a huge base of conservatives and (let's get real) voters who don't want to vote for a Mormon.